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Incubus’ Brandon Boyd: Through the Darkness

on May 14, 2015, 12:00am

Photo by Eva Gii

Nostalgia’s a hard word to use on a band that’s had an album hit number two on the Billboard 200 chart in both 2011 and 2001. Incubus, one of the survivors of the post-grunge scene of the late ’90s, has stayed relevant by evolving their sound with the times. The band’s last opus, If Not Now, When?, was met with mixed critical and fan reactions. Now, Incubus released the Trust Fall (Side A) EP on May 12th and has promised more new music by the end of 2015. Consequence of Sound caught up with vocalist Brandon Boyd, who told us the band may not have been in the best of places for that last album and explained what’s going to be different about their upcoming work.

Where are you right now, and what are you doing?

I’m at home in Los Angeles. We’ve been home for the past three weeks, writing and recording. We’re getting ready to release Trust Fall (Side A) on May 12th. We’ve been actively writing and recording Side B; we don’t have a release date, but we’re hoping for later this year.

Are you planning to release it as one full-length or two EPs, then a full-length?

The last part has yet to reveal itself, but the plan this year is to do two EPs that, when you put them together as Wonder Twins, activating, would create one full album. Side A and Side B will be two EPs, but combine them, and it’d be like an album.

Why are you doing this as two EPs rather than a full album? Were you getting your feet wet, or did it just fit better as an EP?

It was kind of all of the above, to tell you the truth. We hadn’t put a record out since 2011, and we didn’t have any plans to write or record, but then an amazing studio space became available to us. So we went in and leisurely started jamming around; then ideas started to merge. We just finished our deal with Epic Records; we’d been with them for 20 years or so. We started looking for support in that regard, and a new manager, and all these things snowballed effortlessly. It’s been fun. We’ve been chasing that rabbit down the hole, and some wonderful opportunities presented themselves.

 Incubus Brandon Boyd: Through the Darkness

Some touring opportunities opened up and we were recording songs, so we thought, “Why don’t we do an EP?” Maybe an EP is best since people aren’t buying albums anymore. And then we thought maybe we could do another EP later in the year, and then if people put them together, it’d be like a whole record. Then we could tour during the year while doing the record. All of those things put together made it the right idea to us. We’ll see! [laughs] There really is no one way of doing anything in music anymore, which is both frightening and terrifyingly uncertain, but it’s also exciting because it democratizes the playing field.

There’s less of a beaten path compared to how it was. What was the studio space that opened up?

We were offered this beautiful live room by a cat called Hans Zimmer — you may have heard of him. He does music for like every film that’s come out in the past 20 years [laughs]. He’s a fantastic guy and a big supporter of our band; Mike [Einziger] has worked with him before. He had a room on the west side of Los Angeles, and it was just too good to pass up. We also felt like it would be an interesting environment to write and record in. All the other studios were scoring major films: timpani, drums [imitates timpani]. It could never hurt to hear that while making a rock record. It’s been fun. It’s cool to rub elbows with musicians and recording artists in a very different capacity than ours.

Incubus specifically seems like a band influenced by their recording environment — Morning View is a prime example. Is the music sounding classical or more orchestrated?

It’s not sounding like music for films, quote unquote. I was hoping more of that would rub off on us, but the room itself is very dead in its sonic offerings compared to any other recording studio we’ve ever been in. As a result, we’ve been making these tight, adventurous songs. The EP, Side A, is only four tracks, but all of them are very sonically involved with lots of twists and turns; the newer tracks are even more labyrinthine. They go on these weird tangents and return when you’re not expecting them to. I think the environment is influencing the music less sonically and more with the twists and turns of a modern film.

The EP has a song called “Trust Fall” on it. Is “Trust Fall” a statement about the band?

The song “Trust Fall” was one of the first tracks we wrote and were all collectively excited about. It’s a little bit of a taste of the places we’ve come from and many of the places we’re going to be going. It was nice: the idea of us turning around and falling with eyes closed into an uncertain, sometimes hostile, but sometimes beautiful environment as a band. It felt really good to do that again. If Not Now, When? was creatively very rewarding to do. The first part of the process was really fun to do, but as we got into it, it really turned into, for lack of a better term, a collective dark night of the soul. It was a very dark, very arduous time for us as a band — interpersonally, individually, everyone in their own way fell apart. Everyone really broke down.

I know a lot of reviewers panned it or called it “elevator music,” but it seems like it was being pulled apart in multiple directions. You can hear the darkness.

It was an intense low. I feel like in the scope of our career, it’ll be a really telling album. It was fucking brutal; by the time we were four or five months into touring it, we were in that dark night. Then we emerged and took a break, and our record deal ended. We shifted the collective tree of our creative family; we felt a lightness return to our souls. This album, or this EP, is very much a reflection of that.

I saw you guys at SXSW. It seemed like you were having fun again. I know you were cast in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar that got canceled, and you put out your Sons of the Sea album in 2013. Did either of those shape the new Incubus music?

Absolutely. Making Sons of the Sea … I only did a handful of shows behind it. I didn’t get to tour it like I’d have liked to, but that’s because Jesus Christ Superstar came up, so I put Sons of the Sea on hold. Then Jesus Christ got cancelled. As a result of that unexpected availability, Incubus started writing. It’s this string of events that was completely unanticipated. I love stuff like that; I look back like, “Wow, this all had to happen for the rest to happen.”

Sons of the Sea was this wonderful breath of fresh air, especially after the darkness of the last Incubus record. I did that record with Brendan [O’Brien], and it was just fun and light. Every day, the crazy creative adventure … I think all of it has an effect on what we’re doing.

incubus Incubus Brandon Boyd: Through the Darkness

You turned 39 a few months ago. Has your approach to music changed with age?

It has changed in certain ways, but in others it hasn’t at all. I’ll start with how it’s stayed the same: After writing music for about 25 years, I still don’t read music. When I write music, I don’t write notes down. I think as a result, there’s still a childlike fascination for me. This sounds cheesy, but there’s almost a magical feeling when I’m writing songs. There’s so many mechanisms and mathematics involved with songwriting; I understand a lot of those mechanisms and mathematics, but when a melody arrives out of nowhere and I’m driving in my car or riding my bike, I feel so moved by this random melody that I have to pull over or stop whatever I’m doing. There’s something magical about that. In that sense, nothing has changed.

The events in my life and the environments in my life, they grow as I grow. I’m 39; my experience as a 39-year-old is different than mine as a 19-year-old. I think there’s probably less … testosterone. [laughs] Bringing it back to a mechanical thing, the chemicals your body produces at 19 versus 39 are very different. All I can say is I’m very happy to be where I’m at right now. I feel wonderful and mostly blessed all the time.

Trust Fall (Side A) was going to come out in March, but it got postponed. What was the reason for that?

Our label, Island Records, wanted to postpone it to have more promo time to help set it up. The single started to do well at radio, and they figured if it had more time, it would be more beneficial to the release and the longevity of the EP. That kind of thing is sort of boring and borderline inappropriate to bring to social media. So what we did on social media was blame each other. Each of us sent out tweets and Facebooks like, “Sorry guys, the EP is coming out on May 12 … it’s @MikeEinziger’s fault.” And obviously it’s not — it’s just funny.

How did the Deftones/Death from Above 1979 tour come together? That’s an insane lineup. I’d like to go to a bunch of those shows.

Me too! [Laughs.] We toured with the Deftones a lot in the early 2000s; there were a lot of kindred energies in our bands. There was enough differentiation in what we were doing creatively, but it was always fun touring with them. It was a long time since we’d seen those guys frequently. I think they were already planning a tour with Death from Above, and we were planning our tour, and it had the same promoters. You get our managers talking and the promoters talking, and it just seemed like a no-brainer. It’s a really cool idea to do. We’re all psyched to go on the road with them.

I know you still have big hits, and I don’t mean to associate you with the ‘90s, but when you write music, what perspective do you think from? Do you think from the perspective of a fan of ‘90s music, or a new fan’s perspective, or do you not think of a fan’s perspective at all?

It’s not that we don’t think about those things. Those things probably exist as a phantom presence as we craft music together, but it’s not in the forefront of our minds, saying “I don’t know about that guitar riff. I don’t think our longtime listeners or new listeners are gonna like that.” If we did that, our music would sound very different. We do our best to just let it flow through us, which is why each record sounds so different from one to the next. If Not Now, When? — say what you want about it — that was an honest portrait of where we were at that moment in time. Some people love it, some people hate it, some are indifferent, but that’s where we were then. Trust Fall (Side A), that’s where we were two months ago.

There’s definitely a lot of forces that could propel us to pay too much attention to us and our audiences. All of those stats and all that data is available now. A lot of music is written that way — I’m sure you know that. But a lot of that music is terrible. It’s bullshit! It’s pandering. It’s like, there’s nothing authentic about that. I think we’re kind of old-school in that sense; we’re actually trying to craft art that has some sense of integrity behind it. We’re doing our best to tell the truth as we see it. Does that make sense?

Yeah. Especially from a critical perspective, it seems more and more people are crafting things with a PR narrative in mind. I’ve seen firsthand when a punk band doesn’t like punk, but they “have to be punk,” and that just seems stupid to me. At least with you guys, your whole scene, that ’90s alternative was a mishmash of genres. That probably worked out genre-wise, but you probably have the problem of “where do we go from here” often.

Yeah, absolutely! That’s one of the challenges that a band or an artist has to be willing to take on. One of the reasons I love to write music is that everybody in the band very much is willing to embrace the challenge of that uncertainty. “Does what we do have any relevance culturally?” I don’t know. But let’s try anyway. We don’t know anymore if we’re relevant. We’re probably a band that’s seen its biggest day commercially. That was fun and amazing, and it was a cool, scary, weird experience, but our drive to create music for the sheer fun of it is exactly the same way, so that’s where we land.